The Generation of the Classic Revival
Video gaming is a hobby with deep roots, dating back practically to the creation of the computer and, in the modern eye, having a slow but dominant pop culture rise one could trace all the way to the budding tech scene of the 1970s. Such a culture will always have its classics, its great heroes and widely-remembered monuments, but for gaming, there exist many complications therein. While it’s true there is a cost or equivalency to finding great pieces of art or film classics; such an experience can be reproduced easily. An interested soul doesn’t have to fly to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa when you can experience the beauty and weight of the piece from anywhere in the world. However, as time marches on, that experience is becoming in many ways more, but in many ways less possible for generations going forward.
With the 2000s drawing close came a Renaissance of nostalgia, a new time of integrating brand new worlds of experience and change with the growing generations, and many video games of yore had a special place in this heart, alongside classic cartoons and the exploding toy scene from the ’80s on. This hasn’t changed or stopped--in fact, if anything, it’s become more prominent, with some of the best and most iconic experiences of modern childhood often coming about as a result of this very nostalgia on creators. However, video games are an entertainment medium predicated on an anchor of technology, and never before has that become more painfully clear.
With the growing gaming culture becoming mainstream and eventually even as popular as its entertainment rivals, the need to preserve gaming’s foundations has always been clear. After all, many of gaming’s current greats are venerable old IPs from the dawn or early days of the scene, and outside of nostalgia, there will always be a need to remember these origins going forward. Classic games have ever had a place in the libraries of fans, but past a certain point, even a dedicated gamer has to work at it to continue playing and experiencing these.
Every new generation of platform or even computer technology is something of a gatekeeper, sealing off access to many games of the past, and as the technology itself has become more intricate and complicated, this has become truer. It’s much harder to fit a PS3 emulator into PS4 hardware than it was for the former to squeeze in the ability to read and play PS2 discs. Likewise, Nintendo consoles have existed for longer than any of their console competitors, and have gradually made the change from bulky cartridges to integrated CDs and eventually to DVDs and now a new generation of card-based games reminiscent of the old TurboGrafx, albeit at much higher capacity for play and storage. It hasn’t always been something you can cram into the next platform going forward and expect it to work--or maybe even fit inside.
Emulators themselves are... questionably legal. While it’s true for many older games that you can’t officially obtain them anymore, especially those built for vintage consoles, major companies still often see emulation as piracy. Nintendo recently tore down two established ROM sites for such games, filing a successful suit against the creators for millions of dollars in the process, because of the massive piracy enlisted by the websites in question. However, aside from the fact that the creators of these non-profit, free sites--supported minimally by ad revenue--are unlikely to be able to pay such lofty settlements, there’s also the fact that the games in question were of mixed generations and nature. While some of the titles were more modern, many of the game ROMs lost when the websites went down were older games no longer supported officially by Nintendo themselves, in any capacity. And not only was there no loss of money involved for Nintendo but now the games themselves may well be lost to history at least until another big site is established to house them.
The retro craze has been something of a fertile ground for prominent platform leaders and even other developers, however. Nintendo themselves have maintained a digital storefront for classic games for a couple of generations now, though they did take some significant steps back losing an entire database of games on the switch to... well, the Switch. Moreover, both Microsoft and Sony have historically gone out of their way to add in features like backwards compatibility to their newest platforms, and updated digital versions of older games, often at the behest or even demand of their playing audience. And naturally, the developers and publishers of third-party games have notoriously been in the retro game for years now, consistently bringing updated and remade version of older games to audiences both brand new and experienced, from titles like the entire Jak & Daxter to series, to most Resident Evil games, to Shadow of the Colossus, and many more. There have even been several retro consoles put out, most recently the PlayStation Classic, full of several best-selling titles from one of the broadest console markets in history--to mixed reviews.
However, where does that leave PC gaming? Well, the PC is arguably one of the best platforms out there for experiencing older games. Be it through emulation of vintage consoles, ported or updated titles from decades of video gaming, or the availability of modern wonders like Good Old Games. An organization dedicated entirely to providing cheap, reliable, and DRM-free access to games old and new, including a library of titles you’d never be able to find on Steam, all the way back to old-school point-and-click adventures and DOS exclusives the average consumer would struggle to run otherwise.
While it’s true that games are being made bigger and better, with more and more new tools and stronger technology every year for the building, there’s also something that gaming loses from time to time, a forgotten element of charm and even a bit of simplicity that can get lost in the chaos of photorealistic graphics and branching control chains. However, games that are great now continue to be great because of the work put in by every developer that’s come before, on every masterpiece made and added to the favored collection of gamers worldwide.
As long as we keep these gems in mind--and add to them every magnum opus of the current generation, going forward--we won’t lose our place, not even when the world throws all the microtransactions and unfinished games at us that it dares. Let’s hope that, in taking steps forward, we don’t accidentally lose all access to some of the first stones built into video gaming’s foundations.